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  • Writer's pictureM. Linda Graham

Who's Grooming Who?

Retirement Day #1344

[A Soapbox Moment]

Tennessee is officially restricting "adult cabaret performances" — which it defines as including "topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers," and "male or female impersonators." It bans performances on public property as well as "in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult." The bill was signed into law on Mar. 2, 2023, by Republican Gov. Bill Lee and comes as a photo taken of Lee in high school is circulating, showing the future governor dressed in drag himself. Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, who sponsored the bill, said it "does not ban drag shows in public. It simply puts age restrictions in place to ensure that children are not present at sexually explicit performances." [People Magazine]

The bill is the first of several other, similar bills being introduced by Republican-led legislatures in other states and is, in part, a reaction to misinformation regarding drag events and their intended audiences. The claim is that these events are “grooming” children, implying attempts to sexually abuse them or influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Meanwhile, at the local dance studio…. ‘Tis the season of dance recitals, concerts, and competitions, when aspiring dancers aged 3-18 and predominantly identifying as female present their technical and performance mastery in competitions. While the purported focus is on technique and artistry, over the years I’ve noticed an increase in sexually suggestive movements even as clothing has decreased. This morning I watched a 3yr. child in false eyelashes and full make-up wearing a spangled mini bikini with complementary hair spangles grind her hips, thrust her buttocks to the audience and repeatedly smack her 3yr old tush, implied pulling her butt cheeks apart, then with a rapid spin closed her moment with a high leg kick & shimmy. She was charming, performed enthusiastically, and received robust encouragement from the increasingly whooping audience. My stomach flipped.

We all respond to positive reinforcement. This 3yr old child received clear encouragement to present herself in minimal clothing while doing very adult movements. Similar recitals will happen in the thousands across the USA this spring, including Tennessee. This is a 4.7-billion-dollar industry for the nearly 79,000 dance studios and their supporting costumers, vendors, convention centers and dance competition organizations. These studios nurture the foundation of the USA dance world and are both responsive to and harbingers of cultural trends. I don’t blame them- they are responding to cultural expectations. If people didn’t whoop enthusiastically for a bump-‘n-grinding 3yr. old, they wouldn’t be teaching the child how to bump-‘n-grind. But because audiences respond positively to gratuitous sexuality displayed by the youngest of females, some studios teach children how to do exactly that. Supply and demand.

If the conservatives who ironically are up in arms about “cancel culture” are going to get their panties in a bunch about drag shows “grooming” children, perhaps they should take another look at those competition dance studio recitals where they enroll their little girls.

Better yet, perhaps they should take a harder look in the mirror. Who’s whooping for that 3yr. girl?

Dance Recital Season 1967- my 9yr old self (middle) checks in with those butterflies while waiting backstage to perform a tap duet.

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